PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Code enforcement hearings are now underway for damaged Bay County properties that have not improved at all since Hurricane Michael.
Bay County code enforcement officials say it’s no easy task, as Michael has created an unprecedented amount of cases to manage; almost five years worth.
However, months of work and investigation have led to the first hearing before a special magistrate on Wednesday.
“As of April of last year, we have been trying to work with these property owners to come to a resolution before we had to get to this point,” said Cathi Ashman, the Code Enforcement manager for Bay County. “They had become a danger to the community, to Bay County, and to neighboring properties.”
She’s referring to properties such as some on East 17th street in Panama City; several of the dilapidated homes have had squatters living in and out of them, and the floors in one of them is covered in human feces.
Now, it’s affecting neighboring homes and businesses.
“[There is] a lot of drug activity, a lot of illegal activity, a lot of fires,” said Dell Jackson, manager at Gulfeagle Supply in Panama City, which is across the street from the homes in question. [It’s] stuff that could endanger my business.”
The hearings are an attempt to come to a solution, after Ashman says the county code enforcement officers have been working for almost a year to get in contact with owners of code-violating properties.
She said there are about 600 unsafe and unfit properties left to resolve in unincorporated Bay County, and now decisions are being made on what to do with them.
“It’s not necessarily that the county wants to demolish these homes,” said Ashman. “We want them to be repaired.”
Property owners are given the chance to create a plan to repair or demo the homes, as long as they show up to the hearings in person or even on the phone.
At several of Wednesday’s hearings, the county granted extensions to property owners that agreed to keep the county informed on the status of their property as well as the action plan they had to bring the property into compliance with code.
However, Ashman said the attendance for these hearings is usually low.
“We have times when we’ll have ten [cases] on the schedule and we’ll have one property owner or nobody shows up,” she said.
When owners do not contact the department or show up to the hearings, the county is given permission to demolish the property at the expense of the owner after 30 days.
Hearings have been scheduled throughout the year.